Little Pot Shop on the Prairie: Calgary artists open small-town herbal destination in Black Diamond

How does that children’s rhyme go again?

Here’s the empty rural church, here’s the steeple, open up a cannabis shop and see all of the people.

Something like that.

It’s not actually the poetic path she envisioned she’d follow when she was a kid, but that’s now, admittedly, the life of local artist and film-industry worker Danielle French. 

Unholy drug dealer.

She laughs.

“It’s pretty funny,” French says. “Actually, one of my high school teachers came in and bought pot off of me.

Professor Tokes A Lot apparently has great taste, as French’s weed wonderland Enlightened Herb Cannabis in the small town of Black Diamond has become something of a southern Alberta oasis for the lovers of the sweet leaf and those who need some leaf relief in their lives.

She opened the mom-and-pop shop in an historic church right on Cowboy Trail in Black Diamond with friend, and local actor Doug McKeag.

How did it come to be? Anyone who’s had dealings with French over the past few decades in the arts scene knows how driven she is, how much belief she has in her artistic vision and life. But she’s also, unlike many in the industry, pragmatic.

“I’ve been a starving artist all my life,” says the songwriter, “so when I got into the film industry and started making some money and I had this extra money, and I’m like, ‘What do I do with extra money? What is this?’ 

“And I went to the banks and they were like, ‘You can invest in oil companies and mutual funds,’ and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ ”

So she did the smart thing and, way in the early days, prior to the end of prohibition, bought some pot stocks. In fact, she “went all in,” betting on the fact it would be legalized.

“I gambled,” she says. “But I kind of won the lottery.

Danielle French

She continues. “And the next natural step was to open a store — it just made sense. Invest that money into my own vision, and that’s what we did.”

As to why Black Diamond, French explains that in the Wild West early days of the green rush there was a “giant land grab by all of the franchises.”

“You had to have an offer to lease on a place in order to start your provincial application,” she says. “But that’s before the municipal rules were in place to know if that application would even be eligible.”

She notes that people were, ironically, gambling and scooping up expensive, five-year leases on prime locations before they even knew if they could open up shop there.

“On 17th Ave. between 8th and 14th, there was 14 stores who had put in development applications.”
When the municipality released their rules — including a Calgary rule where you had to be 300 metres apart from another store — there were a lot of people stuck with a lot of expensive leases who couldn’t open up.

“We couldn’t afford to play that game in Calgary,” French says.

Serendipitously, her father, who lives in Black Diamond (she grew up in Okotoks) suggested she rent the old church off of a friend of his, with the name Enlightened Herb Cannabis already long-ago her chosen name.

She admits that it was a long process to jump through the hoops for development and permits to open up a store in rural Alberta, but her day job — behind the scenes in AB’s film industry — actually further came in handy.

“They were trying to make it really, really hard,” she says.

For a cannabis store, that required almost 10 pages for a permit application, which, for most other businesses was two, she says.

A co-worker on the set of Robin Wright’s recently released, locally shot, directorial debut Land — a set designer, who is also, obviously, an architect — offered his services to make sure the expensive application went through the first time.

It did.

And French further used those contacts and friendships to get local artist Bart Habermiller to design the entry way/vestibule, to make it more inviting. And for the rest of the space she used her skills as a set designer to make sure that the shop didn’t look like what most chain locations are offering, which she describes as, “clinical … with no personality. They look like facades in my mind.” 

Her store? “It’s almost like an antique store,” she says, describing it fittingly as “funky.”

As to how the shop has been doing, on a mundane level, she says it’s been “breaking even.”

But above that, French is blown away by the reception in the community.

“It’s been incredible,” she says. “There is literally magic happening. This will sound flaky to you, but I believe in energy, and I’ve seen energy work in this space …

“People are drawn to the space, by some force of nature. There’s a vortex of energy going on.”

Those drawn in by that energy are also drawn in by the quality-over-quantity approach they take to their offerings, with French saying she relies on what she’s gleaned from her years of researching different companies and brands.

When ordering in product, she considers it “curating our menu,” with the focus on purchasing from “smaller, craft growers who still love the plants and are doing it right using proprietary soils and not just trying to pump it out, but actually create this superior product.”

That means on the wellness side of of the cannabis trade, with Enlightened doing pretty excellent business with their CBD products.

Part of that could be because her pops, who lives at the local senior centre, sends achy, creaky and eager clientele their way. But it’s greater than that.

“We’re helping people,” French says simply. “It’s not just come in and get high, it’s very much the wellness aspect.” 

Those partaking in both the wellness and the highness, she says, come from a “demographic (which) is so across the board,” but includes locals as well as Calgary herb connoisseurs who are willing and wanting to make the 60-minute trek south for the personal touch.

French calls the shop a “destination location” and notes their tagline is: “We’re worth the trip.” (Just a Head’s up: should you choose to take the drive, drop the password “daytrip” for a little love.” You’re welcome.)

She notes a regular who comes every 10 days or so from the big city because they carry “really pure products,” and he needs it, trusts their advice.

In other words: he appreciates that small-town service.

“People are finding us and coming to us,” she says. “That’s what sets us apart.

People are coming in and confiding in us. We’re like bartenders, we’re budtenders,” she says, relating the story of a regular who may have only a few months to live, but who needs what they offer and they, in turn, know what to offer him. “We know their life stories now and we care, we actually care …

“It’s community, it’s caring about your community and trying to be part of that community and provide that superior service, where you care, and you’re actually integrated into that community.”

(Photo Credit (c) 2020 Bart Habermiller.)